Why is Albania so different?
If you are wondering why Albania is so different from other European countries, I will outline some of the differences between Albania and other countries in this blog post.
Why is Albania so different? Albania is different because of these reasons:
1. The Albanian language is not closely related to any other language
2. Albania has a different religion than the rest of Europe
3. Albania was isolated under a strict communist regime until 1992
4. Some areas in Albania are still very remote
5. The Albanian Riviera is an off-the-beaten-path tourist destination
6. Albania is not connected to the international rail system
7. Albania’s prime minister is an artist
I am a private tour guide in Albania. In this blog post, I will explore some of Albania’s history and culture. So that you can get a true insight into what Albania is really like and what makes Albania different from other countries.
The Albanian language is different from other European languages
The Albanian language is completely different from any other language.
Basically, the Albanian language is an Indo-European language. However, Albanian is an independent branch within the Indo-European languages. So the Albanian language is not closely related to any other language.
Some historians and linguists believe that the Albanian language may have been related to Illyrian. Basically, the Illyrians were a tribe that was living in Albania in prehistoric times before the Greeks and the Romans came to Albania.
Actually, the concept that the Albanians are modern-day descendants of the Illyrians is very popular in Albania. You can see hotels and restaurants everywhere with Illyria in their name.
Close to the touristic city Kruje, there is a little village called Zgerdec. In the village Zgerdec, archaeologists found objects, which made them believe it was Albanopolis; The capital of the Illyrian empire.
The Albanian language is written with a different alphabet. Basically, the Albanian alphabet has 36 letters. You could say it is the Latin alphabet with additional letters. The additional characters used in the Albanian language are: ë, ç, dh, th, xh, gj, nj, ng, ll, rr, zh and sh.
Albanian is the official language of Albania and Kosovo. And it is one of the official languages in North Macedonia. Moreover, there are Albanian communities in Italy, Montenegro, Croatia, Romania and Serbia, which also speak Albanian.
Albania has a different religion from other European countries
According to a Census survey from 2011, 58% of the Albanians are Muslims whereas only 17% of the Albanians are Christian.
So on paper, Albania has a different religion from the majority of European countries, where the majority of the population is Christian.
Over the years, I have actually received many emails from foreigners travelling to Albania, who ask about the “dress code in Albania”, “what to wear on the beach” and “is a headscarf necessary”.
The answer is, you can wear whatever you want in Albania. Because Albania is a modern country. Although many Albanians are Muslim “on paper” or “by heritage”. Many Albanians do not practice the Muslim religion or only minimally.
In fact, Albania is known for its religious tolerance! In Albania, it is completely okay for a Muslim and a Christian to marry. Or for a church and mosque to be next door to each other.
Albanians do not differentiate themselves from each other due to their religion. The Albanian people are proud nationalists and support each other because they are Albanians. Rather than point out their difference in religion. Simply said, they really do not care which religion you support, practice or subscribe to!
So wear whatever you want to wear when you come to Albania. Because you will see that Albanian people really like slim-fitting, fashionable and sexy clothing!
Albania is different because of its isolation
Albania is different from the rest of Europe because the country was isolated. After the Second World War, Albania became a communist country. And Enver Hoxha became Albania’s communist dictator.
During the Second World War, Albania became a part of Italy. The Italian minister of foreign affairs attended the wedding of the Albanian King Zog. And after attending the wedding, he returned to Italy and gave Mussolini a plan to invade Albania. This is how Albania became a part of Italy for the first portion of the Second World War.
Then, when Italy was invaded by the Allies and Italy fell. The Germans occupied the Albanian territory. The Germans did not have any long term plans for Albania but simply occupied the land to ensure it would not be invaded by the Allies.
Obviously, the Albanian people did not like being occupied by the Italians and the Germans. Therefore, Albanian resistance groups became numerous and popular. And Enver Hoxha was a prominent figure within the Albanian resistance.
So when the Second World War ended and the Germans left Albania. It was Enver Hoxha who got to power. Initially, the communist influence was a good thing. The communists mobilized the masses to rebuild the damaged roads, bridges and buildings left behind from the war.
But over time, Enver Hoxha isolated Albania more and more from the rest of the world. The communists built fences around the country to keep the Albanian people from leaving the country. The newspapers and books were all censured. Artwork needed to idealize the communist ideas and the politics of Enver Hoxha. And anyone who did not follow the government’s rules could end up in prison, concentration camps or be executed.
Although, it may be difficult to imagine. Albania was isolated from the rest of the world, similar to North Korea today. And this intense period of isolation lasted from the end of the Second World War up until 1992.
Albania is different because of the communist history
One of the main reasons why Albania is so different from the rest of the world is its recent communist history.
From the end of the Second World War until 1992, Albania was ruled by a strict communist dictator called Enver Hoxha. He was notoriously paranoid and he implemented more cruel and strange policies over time.
For instance, at the beginning of his regime, he organized trials for the opposition parties and other resistance groups. In this way, he was “legally” imprisoning or killing anyone who could take his power.
Enver Hoxha also isolated the Albanian people from the rest of the world. He constructed fences around the country to keep the Albanian people from leaving Albania.
The Albanian people became completely unaware of what was going on in the rest of the world. Because the news was censored. And all the messaging was propaganda, which idealized the actions of the communist dictator and the government.
And perhaps the strangest policy was the massive construction of bunkers all over the country. Albania has 173.000 bunkers which were all built during communism. Basically, the dictator was convinced that a foreign attack on Albania was inevitable. So he constructed the bunkers to protect the population from a foreign attack.
If you are visiting Albania, I highly recommend you visit Bunk’Art 1. Basically, Bunk’Art 1 is a bunker museum. The museum is located inside a massive bunker complex, which the dictator constructed to protect himself and the political elite.
Although the bunker of Bunk’Art 1 was never actually used because there simply was no foreign attack on Albania. It is still a fascinating place to explore. Inside the bunker museum, you can see a variety of historical objects and art installations about Albania’s fascinating history.
Albania is different because it is still very remote
Although you may not expect it, some areas in Albania are still incredibly remote.
Albania is a very mountainous country. The highlight is the Albanian Alps, which is a massive mountain range in the North of Albania on the border with Montenegro and Kosovo.
The Albanian Alps are also known as the “Accursed Mountains”. This area is still very remote until this day. Throughout the winter months, for instance, the Albanian Alps are closed off from the rest of the world, since they are covered in snow.
If you have ever been to Mont Blanc or any skiing area in Europe, you would expect ski lifts to access the area. And you would expect snow clearing equipment to open the roads in times of snow. However, this is not the case in Albania. In the winter, the Albanian Alps are simply closed off from the rest of the world.
But even in the summer, the Albanian Alps are remote. Simply said, the asphalt road to the villages is not constructed yet in many places in the mountains. In so many of the mountain areas, you need a 4 wheel drive to access the area. Even though the Theth village and the Valbone village are popular amongst hikers and tourists, the areas remain remote due to the difficult road access.
And those mountain areas are not the only remote areas. Other beautiful places, like the Cape of Rodon pier at about a 2-hour drive from Tirana is very remote. The road is quite old and you must drive slowly to this destination. It is a beautiful place to visit though! Especially if you like rugged and undisturbed nature.
Another one of my favourite remote places is the Shala River. This remote and untouched river can only be visited by boat. And from Tirana, it is a four-hour drive of which the last two hours are on a stony dirt track. The boat trip to the Shala River is absolutely worth a visit though! This area is known as the “Thailand of Albania”!
Albania only became an independent country in 1912
Another reason why Albania is different from many European countries is that it only became independent in 1912.
Although Albania has been inhabited since prehistoric times by Albanian people, the country was always a part of another empire.
In prehistoric times, the Illyrians were living in Albania and the Balkans. And the Illyrians are believed to be the original Albanians. However, soon after, Albania would become a part of many large empires.
The Greeks and Romans built colonies in Albania. Some of those you can still visit today, in the form of an archaeological park. You can visit the ancient city of Butrint, the ancient city of Apollonia and the Roman amphitheatre in Durres.
After the Greeks and the Romans, Albania was a part of the Byzantine Empire. Basically, the Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire. The Western Roman Empire had collapsed, but the Eastern Roman Empire continued as the Byzantine Empire.
Then, like many Balkan countries, Albania was invaded by the Turkish Ottoman Empire. For about 500 years, the Albanians were a part of the Ottoman Empire, ruled by the Turkish Sultan.
So only became an independent country in 1912 at the end of the 500-year Ottoman rule. Which is actually relatively recent.
Unfortunately for the Albanians, the independence did not last very long, because during the Second World War they were invaded by Italy and later Germany.
And after the Second World War, Albania was ruled by the strict communist dictator Enver Hoxha.
If you have a look at the history of Albania, you do understand why the country is different from many other European countries. Because Albania had a very turbulent history!
The Albanian coastline is unknown compared to the rest of Europe
Another way that Albania is different from the rest of Europe, is that the coastline is like a hidden gem.
Actually, Albania is just to the north of Greece. And whereas Greece is a major touristic destination, Albania is unknown. Which is unimaginable, if you think that it is the same coastline!
Whereas the French Riviera, the Spanish Beaches, the Greek coastline and the Italian beaches are incredibly popular. The Albanian Riviera is a hidden spot that tourists do not know about yet. At the same time, this is also the beauty of the Albanian Coast.
Without a doubt, the most beautiful beach is Ksamil beach. This beach is also known as “the pearl of the Albanian Riviera”. What makes this spot the highlight of the Albanian Riviera are the four tiny islands in front of the coastline. From the coast, you can swim, kayak or paddle to the uninhabited islands. This is your opportunity to visit a deserted island!
But obviously, it is not one beach that makes up the coastline. The Albanian Riviera is basically a 120 kilometre long stretch of coastline between Vlore beach and Saranda beach.
I highly recommend going on a tour or a road trip along the Albanian Riviera. It is definitely worth driving along the coastline and making stops along the route. There are gorgeous spots, like the Llogara Pass, Zvernec island and the Castle of Ali Pasha in the Bay of Porto Palermo.
Although many travellers fly to Tirana Airport with the intention to go straight to the big coastal city of Saranda. I would recommend you slow down your trip and take 1-2 days to see the beauty of the Albanian Riviera coastline!
Albania is the only European country with no international rail connections
Albania is different from the rest of Europe because it is the only country not connected to the international rail system.
Simply said, it is impossible to travel to Albania by train. And even within Albania itself, there are only a few operating trains these days.
The reason for this is that Albania got trains and rails for the first time during the communist period. Before that, Albania did not have any trains at all.
However, since the communists were focused on isolating Albania from the rest of the world. There was no reason for the communist dictator to construct international rails. In fact, the communists worked hard to keep the Albanian people from leaving the country. They even constructed fences on the border with alarms that went off when people crossed the fencing.
Even though communism ended in 1992 in Albania, the rail network inside Albania has not been maintained, refurbished or upgraded. Due to the lack of maintenance on the rails and trains, the few remaining trains started driving slower and slower. And fewer and fewer people travelled by train, so train travel is in a downward spiral in Albania.
As a result of the slow trains, Albanian people never take the train. They always prefer a car, taxi or minibus, because even the local busses are faster than the trains.
Actually, the capital city Tirana does not have a train station anymore. Because it was broken down a few years ago. So if you want to take the train from the capital, you have to travel 10 km to Kashar to catch the train to Durres.
If you are a foreigner travelling in Albania, you might want to take the train to experience a really old communist train. If you are in it for the adventure, by all means, go ahead and catch the train from Kashar to Durres. However, do not take a train as an effective manner of transportation, because there are quicker ways to get from A to B! And one thing is for sure, you cannot travel from abroad to Albania by train, so catch a bus or car to get to Albania!
The Albanian prime minister is an artist
Not many countries can say that their prime minister is an artist. However, in Albania, this has been true for many years!
Edi Rama is the prime minister of Albania. And he has recently been elected for the third time as the prime minister of Albania. Rama has been in politics for years, as he was also the mayor of the capital city Tirana for many years.
Obviously, having an artist as the prime minister makes Albania different from other countries.
When Edi Rama was the mayor of Tirana, he actually asked the European Union for money to paint the buildings in the capital city! Simply said, Tirana was a grey city, because the vast majority of the buildings were concrete structures remaining from the communist regime.
And Edi Rama believed that painting the city would boost the morale of the people in Tirana. So he painted the buildings of the city in bright orange, bright yellow, flashing pink etcetera. You won’t be surprised that the inhabitants and the politicians of the European Union were shocked!
And the colourful buildings of Tirana are just one example. Edi Rama has put culture high on the agenda. Albania now has many cultural treasures, like a modern museum inside a large communist bunker, called Bunk’Art.
A fancy art installation, called “the Cloud” in the main government street. Beautiful greenery and parks in the capital city. A fancy new football stadium in the national colours black and red. And a design competition to find the best companies to construct new skyscrapers in the capital city.
Although, you cannot attest all the new and cultural projects to Edi Rama alone. Having a prime minister, who is an artist by trade, certainly helps push the country forward!
I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania. I arrange your transportation and I am your English speaking guide. So that, you get to experience the most beautiful places in Albania!
Kind regards, Manon
Welcome to Albania!
I am a Tour Guide in Albania
I am an Albania Tour Guide, who organizes 1-day, 2-day or multiple day private tours in Albania.
Book your free Albania Planning Session via Skype now, by using my online scheduler to find a time that’s convenient for you.